Women in Science: Ants Are the Career Love of My Life

Magda-Sorger-HEADER-848x477

I love ants!

My name is Magdalena Sorger. I’m a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Biological Sciences at NC State University working with Rob Dunn. My work is my passion: I study ants. My research is about their behavior and distribution in places like Florida, Ethiopia and Borneo.

If someone had told me eight years ago that this is where I would be, I would have laughed in their face. At that time I was in business school in Vienna, Austria, my home city, working on my master’s degree in international business administration and convinced that I would get rich as a management consultant in a big company like The Boston Consulting Group or McKinsey & Company. In order to achieve success in the business world, I was more than ready to commit to 80-hour work weeks, extensive work travel and long drawn-out meetings.

But all of that changed – extremely quickly. In 2007, during my exchange semester at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I decided to take a biology class in addition to my business class requirements. For the first time, I learned about animal behavior in depth, like the evolutionary explanations for some of the strange things I’ve seen in nature films – and I loved it. It particularly made me realize how fascinating insects are and I started to pay a lot of attention to the natural world around me. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment this happened, but I returned to Austria madly in love – with ants!

Before and after becoming a scientist.

Before and after becoming a scientist.

Needless to say, that was a pretty strange turn of events and it left my family and friends rather confused. Many might have thought (in particular my business school friends) that I must have gone mad. But that did not discourage me from fueling my newfound passion. So I quickly found myself volunteering at the Natural History Museum in Vienna to learn more about these small, but so very fascinating, insects. At the time, many suggested that I treat ants only as a hobby while having a “day job” to earn money. But that was not enough for me and I was determined to do whatever it took to make it my career.

Now I am the happiest person in the world – and I didn’t even know that a profession like this would exist for me; growing up and being taught that a job is something you need in order to survive and earn money, not necessarily something that should be fun. But let’s face it – if you do something you love, there’s a whole different energy to it, so much more power and motivation which almost inevitably leads to success (’cause giving up is not an option anyway).

And as you can see, the determination (and hard work) paid off. I was lucky to have very supportive mentors around me who opened doors that I was more than happy to walk through. That is how I ended up here at NC State University nearing the completion of my doctoral degree in zoology.

Many people ask me “Why ants?” But all I can say is, I don’t know. They simply trigger a profound happiness deep within me and I would be a fool not to want that in my life.

Thanks, as always to NC State for letting us share these wonderful stories about women in science.  Stay tuned next week to be introduced to another science role model for girls!

Images courtesy Magdalena Sorger

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